prayer in unity

We went to church in Paterson Sunday and there were three things in this church that I could not help but take note that, 1) there was an over abundance of women in the church, and 2) there was a noticeable lack of teenagers to thirty-something year old folk in the church, and 3) the music in the church was awesome!

As we drove through a blighted neighborhood in Paterson to the way church Sunday, I could not help but reflect on a book by Tom Burrell that I’ve been reading lately titled, “Brainwashed.” In Brainwashed, Burrell encourages his audience to, 1) consider the power of the ancient wisdom that says, “as ‘a man’ thinks in his heart, so is he”, and 2) to consider the horrible impact that generations of negative thinking is having a significant number of our neighbors, and finally 3) to seek significance by reaching for the amazing potential for good that God has placed inside of each of us (and not the destructive and ugly stereotypes far too many have brought into as the “truth”).

As I drove home from church, I could not help but renew my belief in the hope that we have in Christ; hope that is unleashed through the bold proclamation of the gospel, and through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

In every place, in every culture, at every time, and in every circumstance the gospel has proven to be the difference maker. For this reason, when God used the apostle Paul to reach out to the amazingly messed up Corinthians, He did not empower him to preach religion, nor did he inspire him to lower the lights, plug in the praise band, and rock the house. The LORD empowered Paul to preach the gospel to the Corinthians, and to encourage those that believed the gospel to come together as brothers and sisters and form a new community not based on race, or religion, but based on faith and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  The Bible calls this new community the church, the body of Christ, and it is here where God’s love is displayed in living color to the watching world. As members of this new community, our obligation to one another is to love one another, and to encourage one another to live this life just as He lived it on earth almost 2,000 years ago.  As it is written:

1 Peter 3:8 ¶ Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.

FYI – Below is an excerpt from Burrell’s book Brainwashed

Our Family crisis is inseparable from our black male and female identity crisis, and brainwashing has left a great many of us fearful, confused about our
identities, and hopelessly caught in a cycle of relationship underachievement.

To many black men are still stuck in roles ultimately dictated by slavery. Some, living up to the expectation that they are irresponsible, take pride in making babies knowing they can leave without stressing about the outcome of their actions.

Black boys are not the only recipients of the psychological and physical trauma inflicted on their emasculated fathers. Vulnerable black daughters seeking love and validation from the first man in their lives are often left to fend for themselves, relying on their mothers or society to define black manhood for them. Like their mothers, the girls are saddled with feelings of disillusionment and disappointment in black men that often becomes a permanent fixture of their psyches. …. many black women have been brainwashed to be active enablers of irresponsible men, supporting the unhealthy behavior of their mates, leading to future relationships fraught with unnecessary drama.”

“As the saying goes, black men have been brought p by mothers conditioned to ‘raise their daughters and spoil their sons.’ For many black mothers without committed male partners, the son becomes the ‘little man’ whom the omther overindulges and neglects until he gets to an age where she can no longer handle him. Rationalizing that he is indeed a ‘man,’ she submissively allows the boy to come and go as he pleases.

Poor young black women with little education pay the greatest toll. Many are tragically retro, stuck in the past where women had little control over their sexuality. Following in the footsteps of their female ancestors, they are brainwashed into believing that motherhood is the means by which they can validate themselves; having babies with no resources is seen as a way out. ….

THESE DISTRESSING PATTERNS MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED AND ADDRESSED IF WE EVER WANT AN INKLING OF A CHANCE TO FOSTER STRONG BLACK FAMILIES.” (Tom Burrell, Brainwashed: Challenging the myth of Black Inferiority, p.32-33)

Don’t be discouraged after reading the above citation from Burrell. There is hope! For the Bible says, “Be Ye Transformed!”

Romans 12:1 ¶ I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

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The Game Changing Gospel

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

Through the gospel God exerts his power to transform lives and change cultures. I am of the opinion that the church does not need another summit or conference on racial reconciliation or multi-culturalism; what’s needed today are preachers who will prophetically proclaim the gospel.  When the gospel is preached to people whom the Holy Spirit has prepared to receive it, they receive it, and they demonstrate their faith in the gospel by walking in “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)  Let me suggest that anything short of this (changing or accommodating our music styles, or creating night club like atmospheres in our sanctuaries, etc.) will not bring the needed flame of radical revival, but will produce a mere reshuffling of the same old deck of lukewarm cards.

I love this section from George and Woodward’s book, The Mark of Jesus. Using an example from the history of the church, George and Woodward challenge us to consider afresh the power of the gospel to change our lives. They write:

The Testimony of Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr effectively depicted and defended the lifestyle of Christians. In his First Apology (c. A.D. 155), Justin challenged Emperor Antonius Pius to take a good, hard look at the way Christians lived. Justin apparently did not fear that an investigation by the emperor would find the Christians to be hypocrites: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest we ourselves should bear the blame for what those who do not really know about us do in their ignorance.” Then, in a marvelous passage, Justin described how the power of the Gospel had transformed Christians at the very core of their aspirations and desires:

Those who once rejoiced in fornication now delight in continence alone; those who made use of magic arts have dedicated themselves to the good and unbegotten God; we who once took pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need; we who hated and killed one another would not associate with men of different tribes because of [their different] customs, now after the manifestation of Christ live together and pray for our enemies and try to persuade those who unjustly hate us, so that they, living according to the fair command of Christ may share with us the good hope of receiving the same things [that we will] from God, the master of all.

According to Justin Martyr, Christians turned their backs on sexual immorality, on the making of money as a life avocation, and on yielding to racism. Rather, they shared their goods even with those whom they had formerly disdained for racial reasons—those who belonged to other tribes. Many Christians were living in unity and were intent on seeing their non-Christian neighbors come to Christ. They prayed for their enemies with the hope that they might likewise become followers of the true God. They believed that only those persons were worthy to be called Christians who actually obeyed their Lord’s teachings.

As for those persons who did not obey Christ’s teachings (hypocrites), Justin Martyr offered little comfort: “Those who are found not living as he taught should know that they are not really Christians, even if his teachings are on their lips, for he said that not those who merely profess but those who also do the works will be saved. For he said this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’”Justin Martyr, therefore, viewed “apologetics”(the defense of the faith) in a somewhat different fashion than we often do, if we limit its scope to the presentation of the “theistic proofs”or historical arguments for the resurrection of Christ. Certainly Martyr made the case for fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, the reality of Christ’s miracles, and the truthfulness of the resurrection. But Martyr was not hesitant also to make the point that many of the Christians he knew obeyed Christ’s teachings. This would mean that any hypocrisy charge regarding them would not stick. He wrote: “Many men and women now in their sixties and seventies who have been disciples of Christ from childhood have preserved their purity: and I am proud that I could point to such people in every nation.”

Justin Martyr’s presentation of how Christians actually lived out their faith received confirmation of sorts from a surprising quarter. Pagan critics, while condemning Christianity as an irrational faith that attracted the weak-minded, on occasion paid backhanded tributes to the Christians by describing them as those who kept their word and shared their goods with each other. Undoubtedly, the early church had its hypocrites who by no means followed Christ in the way Justin Martyr indicated. At the end of the second century, Tertullian complained that he knew Christians, including members of the clergy, who ran after money and church offices rather than seeking to follow Christ’s teachings. For many early Christians, not following Christ’s teachings indicated a person was worse than a hypocrite; the person was a “non-Christian.

How to kill a giant

I needed to re-read this today. Thanks Lord for the reminder of your empowering grace.

A View From PEW

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1 Samuel 17:33, 37 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine {Goliath} to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” …… David said, “The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Humanly speaking, Saul spoke the truth when he said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine.”  Take a quick look at David’s resume below and see if you don’t agree with Sauls words

  • David was merely a youth (a lad) when Saul shared his assessment of David’s chance of success against Goliath.
  • David was not even the choicest of his own fathers children.
  • David was a shepherd to this point of his career, and unskilled in war.

Goliath…

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Sweet ‘n’ Sour – Words Have Power

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Proverbs 16:24 ¶ Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

Proverbs 26:20 ¶ Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. 21 As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. 22 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.

It is unfortunate that gossip is an acceptable sin among too many Christians. There are two things that make the sin of gossip so hard to pinpoint and difficult to deal with: First of all, we like to hear rumors and stories of other people’s affairs. Lastly, we chose to be ignorant of the truth, and pretend not to understand that listening to a gossip (some one that digs up evil and sows strife) is just as bad as being the one who does it.

One of the greatest lessons in life that I ever learned was this one:

“Being Ignorant of the law is no excuse to break it.

I learned this lesson when I was 12 years old, and I learned it the hard way as I was tried and convicted of a crime that I had deluded myself into thinking that I was innocent of.  Let me explain.

gossip tutorial

When I was 12 years old I was caught riding in a stolen car with some friends (that I will affectionately call my friendly “Neighbor-hoodies”).  Consequently, I was booked accordingly, and given a day in court.  To say the least, I was both embarrassed and scared, because I always considered myself to be a good kid, and took pride in myself that I was not as bad as others.  So, how did this happen to me?

When my “friends” offered me a ride home in a car that they had stolen, although I knew in my heart that this was wrong (and that they were hoodlums), I convinced myself that simply riding in a stolen car was not the same, or as bad, as stealing it. Therefore, I convinced myself that simply riding in a stolen car was OK, and therefore I was innocent of a crime.

Fortunately, when the judge considered my case she thought otherwise. Judge Phillips rightly condemned me for being “Party to a crime”, and she sentenced me to probation with the understanding that if I stayed out of trouble until I was 18 this offense would be expunged from my record.

In the eyes of Judge Phillips, my participating in (and benefiting from) a crime made me just as guilty as the person that actually did it.  If being party to a crime is itself a crime according to human law, how much more is it a crime according to the Law of God?

Colossians 3:25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

My prayer today is that God will give me the wisdom to discerned between the pleasant words of the righteous that are “like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones”, and the evil words of the wicked that are “like tasty trifles.” May God give me the strength to cling to the former, and the power to shun the latter. As it is written:

1 Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Epilogue – I thank you Lord that this sad episode in my life scared me straight.  I also  thank You for the last forty-six (and counting) years of my life I have lived crime free.  I thank you Lord because I know that it was, it is, and it will continue to be only by Your grace!

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at Sunrise

Wanted! Counselors of Joy

help wanted PNG

Could you imagine seeing a newspaper want ad like the this one:

  • Help Wanted! Counselors of Joy:
    • Must be willing to retrain the way you think and speak of others.

I thought about this as I read my daily proverb this morning.

  • Proverbs 12:17 ¶ He who speaks truth declares righteousness, But a false witness, deceit. 18 ¶ There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health. 19 ¶ The truthful lip shall be established forever, But a lying tongue is but for a moment. 20 ¶ Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, But counselors of peace have joy.

As I continue to read through the book of Proverbs it is amazing how many times the LORD commends the righteous for speaking words that build others up; words that promote healing, peace, joy, and comfort. It is also amazing how many times the LORD condemns the the wicked for speaking words that destroy others.

I have a friend who was destroyed by the words of a teacher when he was in grade school. My friend suffered with asthma as a child, as a result he tended to miss a lot of school. One day when he returned to school after missing a couple days, his teacher said to him, “You are always absent, you will never be anything.” These were horribly harsh words to a kid that loved learning and loved going to school.  Needless to say, after hearing this my friend hated going to school; he hatted it so much that his mom would fight him daily to do so. (The above friend was actually one of my brothers)

Take a look at Ephesians 4:29 below:

  • Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

The word in verse 29 “corrupt” (GK. adjective = sapros) means rotten, like rotten fruit.  When I think of this word it reminds me of a tomato or a piece of fruit that has become moldy and unpalatable.  The point is: If I would not eat something rotten and gross like this, then I should not serve it to others.

My prayer for everyone that reads this is that God will use them as “Counselors of peace”. Although using words to put someone in their place or tear them down may make us feel important and powerful at the time, in the long run they will not bring us joy. As Proverbs 12:20 says, the “counselors of peace have joy.” Friend, let’s speak life!

Beauty for Ashes – Trusting God Through Tough Situations

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I remember once saying to a friend of mine, “O, it looks like you have a cold.”  To which he replied, “Don’t put that on me, I am not claiming it.”  Well, seeing my friend standing before me with tissues stuffed into his nostrils, a blanket wrapped around his body, and sweat pouring from his forehead prompted me to reply, “You don’t have to claim it, it has claimed you.”

We are not called to play games with reality.  Our believing that pain, sickness, suffering, poverty, war, death (and etc) are not real will not make them go away.  David was a man who passionately pursued intimacy with God (Acts 13:22).  God loved David immensely, and God blessed David tremendously with undeserved favor (or grace – see 2 Sam. 7:18).  However, God’s love for David, and his grace toward David, did not shield David from experiencing some of the good, the bad and the ugly side of life; as taking a walk through Davids personal history will demonstrate.

God anointed David to be Israel’s next king, which prompted Saul to try to kill him.  When Saul laid a trap to catch David in his home and kill him, he escaped and fled to Ramah seeking the protection of Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 19:11-17).  When Saul pursued David to Ramah, David ran to his friend Johnathan, Saul’s son, and asked him “What have I done? What is my iniquity, and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life (2 Samuel 20:1)

Neither Samuel nor Johnathan could protect David from Saul (Saul even tried to kill his son Johnathan for helping him), therefore he fled again to the village of Nob where the priest who dwelt there helped David by giving him food and the weapons that David had taken from the giant Goliath.  When Saul found out that the priest of Nob helped David, he ordered their death; 85 men were killed along with their wives and their children (2 Samuel 22:18-19).

Samuel, Johnathan, nor the priest of Nob were able to shield David from Saul’s wrath, so he left Nob and fled to Achish where he sought the protection of the Philistines (talk about being humbled and humiliated).  What David found in Achish was not protection but fear.  In Achish, David experienced what is proverbially called, “jumping from the skillet into the fire” (see 2 Samuel 21).  To get out of Achish, David pretends to be crazy, and then flees to the cave of Adullan, where “everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.”  Remember: David was anointed by God to be the next king.  What a kingdom (a cave), and what subjects (the dregs of life)!

Did David “claim” all of the pain, suffering, and tragedy that followed him?  Absolutely not.  What we learn from reading the testimony of this man of God is that suffering, persecution, tribulation, distress, and pain more often than not come upon us at no fault of our own; these things are products of sin, and characteristics of a fallen world.

God has promised to someday give us “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”.  He may fulfill this promise today, or He may chose to fulfill it a million days from today.  However, until this day comes God has promised to never leave nor forsake His children.  And until that day comes, God will use life’s painful situations to teach us aspects of His amazing, sustaining grace, and His deep, deep love that can only be learned as we walk with Him “Through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23)

Finding himself held up in the cave of Adullam was probably one of the lowest points of David’s life. Nevertheless, in the cave, in the midst of tremendous pain and suffering, God took David’s relationship with Himself to a deeper level, and the Holy Spirit used David to pen one of the Bible’s great Psalms:

Psalm 57:1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by.
2 I will cry out to God Most High, To God who performs all things for me.
3 He shall send from heaven and save me; He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
4 My soul is among lions; I lie among the sons of men Who are set on fire, Whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
6 They have prepared a net for my steps; My soul is bowed down; They have dug a pit before me; Into the midst of it they themselves have fallen. Selah
7 ¶ My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise.
8 Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn.
9 I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations.
10 For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And Your truth unto the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Life can be very hard.  The pain and suffering of life are real forces that each of us will have to face from time to time.  And although our faith in God will not give us carte blanche to escape life challenges, it does give us a “living hope”. Therefore, as Robert Ketchem once said, “God is too kind to do me wrong, and too wise to make a mistake.”  Furthermore, our faith assures us that in the light of eternity, all things will work together for our good, for we reckon that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

{Dedicated to the life of Mia and the memory Steve G.  Steve passed into eternity yesterday from the consequences of serving his country during the Gulf War.  Mia is Steve’s precious wife.  Steve was a beloved brother in Christ, a mentor, and a faithful Christian friend.  Sister Mia is one of the most devoted Christian women that I have ever met.  Mia, we love you in the Lord, and we are praying for you and your family.  May your life continue to be a reflection of the amazing grace of God, and the deep love of Jesus.  God will comfort you at this time of loss, and He Himself will someday wipe the tears from your eyes}

 

Learning from ants?

Proverbs 6:6 ¶ Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, 8 Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest.

Verse six reminded me this morning that one of the common characteristics of successful people is that they are self-motivated—they don’t wait for “it” to happen, they work hard to make “it” happen.

Like the ant, successful people do not need someone to standing over them to make sure that they work; successful people take pride in their work, they know what they need to do, and they work hard to reach their goals. The Apostle Paul was a very successful missionary. Take a look at his testimony below:

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Successful people see roadblocks as challenges to overcome, and setbacks are not failures; they are opportunities to learn and grow from. For successful people the word “excuse” is not a part of their vocabulary.

On the other hand, the sluggard(unsuccessful people) is not self-motivated, if they work at all it is only for a pay check and not for the pride of accomplishment, they always have an excuse for why they cannot move forward, and they are parked in their failures. To the sluggard, the word of God says, “Go to the ant, … Consider her ways …  and be wise.”leafcutter ants